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A Trying Breath by Ephemere
Chapter 3: To the Hospital Wing, Hogsmeade, and the Library by Ephemere
Chapter 3

"Weasley. How good to see you." Draco smirked and pulled the hiding Gryffindor from behind him as he spoke, still clutching her hand. "Now, while I realize that Gryffindors may not be as shrewd as us Slytherins, I thought I could at least credit you with minor deduction skills. After all, how many logical assumptions are there for why Ginny and I would be holding hands, walking about at 5:30 in the morning?" Draco's eyes danced with amusement at Ron's reddening face. This is almost too easy.

"Draco, don't!" Ginny's voice came out as a squeal at his shoulder.

"But don't worry, Weasley," Draco drawled and turned to face Ginny at this last part, "I'm sure she thoroughly enjoyed herself."

Ginny's eyes widened with shock. What is he doing?? Is he asking to get beaten up? "Draco! Don't be an arse!" She desperately whirled around and tried to plead with Ron. "Ron, listen to me. He's just being an idiot. Nothing happened, I - " But Ginny couldn't quite get out the rest of her sentence.

"Let. Go. Of. Her. NOW!!" Ron bellowed at the two of them. Ginny jumped at the sound of his voice, and flew to his side.

"Ron, please. Don't do this, it really was nothing. You don't understand, he's ju-" But, alas, it was no use.


Ron's fist went flying into Draco's jaw. The other boy was caught off guard and flew to the ground. He instantly got up though, and both Quidditch captains were rolling on the floor, a deathly grip on each other's throats. Ginny whimpered; she had no idea what to do. She didn't have very long to think either, as Filch came storming down the hall. The next series of events happened one after the other. Draco and Ron were somehow pried off of each other and ushered to the infirmary. Ron was wearing a particularly smug look, having noted how many more bruises he had inflicted than received. He turned to say something to his sister, but she was already gone.

Harry and Hermione were sitting in the common room discussing Ron's latest disappearance, when all of a sudden a flash of red came zooming through the portrait hole.

"Ginny! Wait!" Hermione shrieked as loud as she could without waking the entire tower. "Where's Ron? Is he okay?"

"He's in the infirmary now." Ginny bit back a sob and turned to go up the stairs. Wait a minute... Then she whipped around. "Hermione, how did you know something was..." But Ginny trailed off when she saw that she was the only one there. Well then.

Ginny slowly trudged up the stairs and tiptoed over to her bed, where she let out a massive sigh. She pressed a hand to her temple and closed her eyes. She raised her hand and swept it across, in an attempt to blot out the rest of the world. It'll never work, you know, she told herself. You can't just escape this. You have to tell someone. Ginny knew that telling someone would be the only way out of this mess. The only question that remained was who.

Hermione? She was trustworthy, smart and very dependable. But Ginny always felt like such a child when she went to Hermione with her problems. It was never much of a comfort to tell the older girl that something was wrong, maybe because she was so close with Harry and Ron. They had a kind of closeness that she could never have, but could only dream of penetrating.

Harry? Most definitely not. Ginny had promised herself a long time ago that she would never let herself be as vulnerable as she had been her first few years at Hogwarts. She was a pathetic child that followed Harry around and sent him cheesy valentines. She had no dignity. If Ginny went crying to Harry now, she would just be taking away all that strength she had worked so hard to build up.

Ron? HAH! Ron wouldn't even attempt to understand how any of this was affecting her. He would simply turn it over to Hermione and declare it a case for the three of them to solve. No, Ginny had only one choice left. There was only one person who could actually help her.

She knew he was just as smart and powerful as her brother, Harry, and Hermione, so he would definitely be able to handle this. Ginny also knew that he had dealt with the Dark Arts and was definitely exposed to pain. There was something else about him too: something that gave him a sort of hero complex he rarely ever showed to anyone. Ginny knew that part of him was aching to save her, if she just gave him the chance; she could see it in his eyes. So it's settled then. I guess I'll just have to find out what exactly makes that Slytherin tick... With that she rolled over and snuggled into her sheets, ever so grateful for Saturday mornings.

"Harry," Hermione whispered, "what are we going to do?" The two of them were sitting next to Ron's bed, watching him lay there. Madame Pomfrey had knocked him and Draco out because they were making far too much noise with their incessant arguing. Hermione could now only wonder what was swimming through her best friend's mind. She started to shake at the thought of what he looked like when he stormed out of the common room. Desperately, she closed her eyes and heaved a sigh. Regaining her composure, she turned to Harry and quirked an eyebrow.

"Well," the dark-haired boy began, before pausing to wipe his glasses. "I'm not too sure what we can do. I mean, it's already pretty much happened. We can't go back and change the past, so we might as well just deal with it."

"But, Harry! You saw the look on Ron's face! What are we going to tell him?"

"What do you want to tell him?" Harry's eyes narrowed slightly in confusion.

"I don't know...but don't you think we should say something? I mean, he was so angry that he just stormed right out of here. It's probably why he even picked a fight with Malfoy to begin with!"

"Ugh, Hermione!" Harry threw his hands in the air and stood up in frustration. "It's not as though he has a real reason to be angry anyway. So we kissed? What does that mean to him?"

"Harry." Now Hermione was standing in front of him. She soothingly placed a hand on his arm to calm the boy down. "He is, after all, our best friend. How can you blame him for being upset if he catches us kissing completely out of the blue? Come on, he must have been expecting one of us, especially you, to tell him something. Who knows? Maybe he thought this had been going on for a while, and we were keeping him in the dark." Now it was Harry's turn to sigh. He ran two fingers across his forehead before smiling down into Hermione's face.

"I know. I'm sorry. I guess we just have to wait until he wakes up to sort this whole thing out." Harry circled his arms around Hermione's waist and clasped them behind her back. He gently pulled her closer till she was resting against his chest. He chuckled softly as a mischievous grin crept across his face. "Until then, of course...we'll just have to find other means of passing the time."

Ginny gingerly opened the door to the infirmary, hoping Madame Pomfrey wouldn't notice and usher her out. To her surprise, Harry and Hermione were already there. To her greater surprise, Harry was sitting in a chair, with Hermione perched on the arm, positively snuggling against him. Ginny cleared her throat to make her presence known. Hermione sprang several feet away from Harry, and both of them stared at Ginny wide-eyed.

"Er, Hullo, Ginny. Just how long were you standing there, like that, by the door...?" Harry nervously fidgeted and stammered out the words.

"Long enough." Ginny was grinning from ear to ear. "So, are you two, 'together' or something? Because if you are, I would just absolutely love you."

"Well, apparently Ron's not all that thrilled with the idea." Hermione looked at the still unconscious Weasley and let out a sigh.

"Erm, well, I have an idea. Why don't the two of you go on to breakfast, you must be starved. I'll stay here and explain it all to Ron when he wakes up. After all, who but his ickle sister could convince him more of anything?" Ginny finished with a sly grin on her face. Please, just leave...

"Well," Harry laughed softly, "I could use some food. Hermione? What do you say? She does have a point." At this, Hermione turned and studied Ginny and Harry for a few seconds before agreeing. Then the two seventh-years walked out of the infirmary, leaving Ginny behind with two seemingly unconscious boys.

Ginny let out a sigh of relief as she took a few steps closer to Ron's bed. She scrutinized his face carefully and ascertained that he was in fact asleep. With a stiff nod she closed the curtain and made her way past his bed and across to a bed on the opposite side of the room. Slowly she drew back the curtain and felt her breath catch in her throat at the sight that met her eyes. Ginny had never seen anyone sleep so beautifully, let alone a Malfoy. She took a step closer and let her eyes graze over his features. A few strands fell loosely across his lids and blew back and forth in the wind from the open window. His cheeks were taught, revealing the determined jaw line. He looks strong even when he's sleeping, Ginny mused at his ability to avoid vulnerability at all costs. Draco's lips were parted slightly, and his chest rose and fell gently with every intake of breath. Ginny sat herself on the side of the bed as her eyes fell on the bruises gracing Draco's face.

"Oh you poor thing," she breathed as a hand involuntarily rose to his face. Her fingers stroked the wounds that were gradually decreasing in size even as she watched. Madame Pomfrey had decided that the slower process of healing would minimize the appearance of scars. Ginny's hand lingered on Draco's face as she moved to caress his cheek with her palm. She jumped a little when he moved into her touch, but Draco quickly snapped his hand up and grabbed her wrist before she could pull it away.

"Oh, Ginny, even you should know by now that I'm quite a lot of things, but none of them is poor." Draco started counting on his fingers. "I've been witty, athletic, engaging, mysterious, and drop dead sexual, but I don't think I've ever been poor. Maybe you could give me a lesson on that one." A smirk teased Draco's mouth, and he lowered his hand, still holding on to Ginny's wrist.

"Oh. I didn't realize you were awake." Ginny chose to ignore everything that came out of his mouth. She had to force herself to put up with the smarmy Draco until she could pull out the one she knew from before. She needed to find the Draco inside that let her trust him. A sigh escaping her lips, Ginny shifted a little and met his eyes. "Draco, we need to talk."

"Are you sure?" He regarded her skeptically, recalling what had happened the last time they tried this. "I don't want to pressure you, but you do know this is pretty important, right?"

"I understand. I'm ready to tell you now. I want you to know, because I want you to help me, and because you deserve to know. First I just want to thank you, Draco, for what happened this summer. I know you told me not to talk about it again, and I haven't told anyone. I just need you to realize that I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't found me like you did, and if you hadn't saved me like you did. You may try to come off as this sodding git, who couldn't care less about anyone besides himself even if he tried. But for some reason, I can't help but feel like I can trust you. I don't know what it is about you. Maybe it's just the fact that I feel like I owe you, or the fact that you just intimidate me. I don't buy that, though. I can't put my finger on it, but I know there's something inside you that just keeps calling out to me, compelling me to put my faith in you. I haven't quite figured you out yet, Malfoy, and believe me, I will. But until then, I'm just going to go along with this gut feeling of mine that you're trustworthy." Ginny took a deep breath after she finished. She spoke the words as fast as she could, afraid that if she stopped she wouldn't be able to force herself to finish.

Draco stared back into her eyes, his expression blank and almost lifeless. He had definitely not expected to be hearing this kind of belief from a Weasley. He was sure he would have to convince her that he had no ulterior motives before she even budged. Then again, why didn't he have any ulterior motives? Draco's head was swimming with confusion over what to think about the nervous girl in front of him. There was no need to sort out the confusion, though, for Ginny had already begun her narration when Draco tore himself out of his thoughts.

"Draco? Did you hear me?"

"Hmm? What was that?"

"I said, the man that kept making those appearances in my - well whatever they are, - " Ginny breathed heavily again. She closed her eyes and willed herself to say the words.

"Tom Riddle?" It wasn't until she heard Draco echoing her own words that she realized she had actually spoken. Draco's eyes danced with thought as he considered Ginny's words. "Tom Riddle..." Why does that name sound so familiar? God, think Draco! "Tom Ri - " his voice stopped short, and his eyes visibly widened. Ginny could feel his grip on her wrist considerably loosen, and she closed her frightened eyes, knowing that he somehow knew the secret identity. Draco didn't seem to notice any of this. He was looking right at Ginny, but he seemed to be looking through her more than actually at her. "My father. That's where I've heard the name before. My father told me the story many times. Of how the greatest wizard in the world walked away from his godforsaken birth, and took on a much greater identity. How he rose to his position of power from an offensive past." Then Draco returned to the world before him. He looked at Ginny long enough for her to open her eyes. Reading her slightly shocked expression, he quickly added, "Yes, well, it's all part of the Death Eater training bit. But how do you know Tom Riddle?"

She let out a hollow laugh. How do I know Tom? Oh not extensively, just enough so that he practically still lives inside of me. "Oh, I guess you could say he's an old friend."

"That's right. The diary. My father told me later about how he slipped it to you."

"Draco, there's more. I don't just know Tom from the diary; he kind of, made his way into my head."

"Well, that's right. You talked to him didn't you?"

"No, Draco, you're not understanding. He basically had this stronghold over me. You remember your second year? When the Chamber of Secrets was opened?" Ginny swallowed nervously and went on, "Well, that was me."

"You??" Draco's jaw dropped to his chest. "You're the heir of Slytherin???"

"No! Volde- Tom is- was the heir of Slytherin. He just made me do all those nasty things. Draco, he practically lived in my head for a whole year. Even after Harry got rid of the diary, whatever was left of him stayed with me. I still see him in my dreams sometimes. He never really left, you know."

An awkward silence followed. Neither one knew exactly what to say; just that something needed to be said. Draco slipped his hand down from her wrist and into hers. The action was so sudden, that Ginny's head darted up. It had seemed like such an affectionate thing to do, that it was unfitting of a Malfoy. Yet, the chills it sent up her spine were all too familiar. Her expression softened and she stared into his face. Then the remembrance came crashing down on her, as thoughts that were shoved out of her head slowly resurfaced.

"Here's how it happened..." and Ginny let the thoughts tumble out from her mind to her throat and off her lips.

The last thing I remember from that night is walking with Tom. He had come back for me, and told me to follow him. It didn't really matter where we were going, as long as I was with him. I followed a few steps behind, but soon enough my mind started wavering. I stopped all of a sudden, next to an alleyway. Ron. I couldn't help but think of him. My brothers, and my family...they're all at home. Should I go back? I should at least tell them that I'm leaving, shouldn't I? Tom, apparently sensing my distance, stopped and turned around.

What's wrong Ginny? Why aren't you coming?

What about Ron? Will he be okay?

Of course he will, Ginny. As soon as he realizes that you're safe, he won't mind. He doesn't care about you anyway. At least, not like I do.

He doesn't? No. No, you're wrong. Ron loves me.

He came at me with this murderous look in his eye. I love you. No one else can love you like I do. Then he just sort of stared at me for a while. You don't seem convinced. Here, let me show you how much I love you. Then you'll see.

He stepped even closer, and reached out to touch me. All of a sudden he jerked my head backwards by my hair. I tried to make noise, and pry his hand away from my head. Then he, well...he kissed me. It was sort of tentative first, then he got all forceful, and he started to hurt me. I was trying so hard to scream and push him away, but he was too strong. When he finally let go, I started to run away, but he stopped me.

Ginny. You must understand. I'm not hurting you: you're hurting yourself. He kept saying it over and over again. I love you, remember? Stop fighting me. I knew it couldn't be true, but something inside made me want to believe him.

I had wanted to tell him that I loved him too, but I just couldn't. It felt wrong. Then I snapped back into reality, and everything just hit me so hard. I was almost sick at the thought of what I might have done. I felt so dirty right then, I just wanted to drop dead. I needed to be home, in my own bed. I wrenched myself free from Tom's grasp, but he grabbed at my wrist, and hauled me onto his shoulder. This wasn't right. Tom isn't here. He can't be here. It just didn't make sense to me. Then it was as though I could see the confusion in my brain, playing out in front of me. Everything around me got distorted. The blinding light that was there for the past hour since I had left my house suddenly disappeared. I could see Tom disappear, and felt myself falling.

The rest is basically a blur, up until a point.

Ginny's fingers tightened on Draco's hand a little. She hadn't realized how serious all this really was until she'd vocalized it. She had spent the last month trying to suppress the little incident, but now she knew that she couldn't, and that trying would really do her no good. The hair on her neck stood up, and she shivered in fright. Never had she been more afraid than now. Even the terror she felt in the Chamber of Secrets paled in comparison to this. This was a combination of all that fear plus the anticipation of having to go through all of it again. He can't be coming back. PLEASE say he's not coming back. Ginny poured all her fear out into her eyes, but found it hard to keep a steady gaze with her violent shaking.

When Draco looked up into her face and saw her tear-filled eyes, he wasn't sure what had come over him. All he knew was that he felt the sudden need to remove anyone that dared to touch her. He gently pulled on her hand, so she fell forward into him. He slipped an arm under her shoulders and across her back, while the other hand still gripped hers, his thumb massaging her wrist. Ginny lay above him, their faces separated by mere centimeters.

"Ginny. I need you to trust me. You can't ask me why. Just know that if anyone touches you, he won't live to see the next day. You know I'm the only one who can help you now. Just promise me you'll trust me, and don't ask questions." He moved his left hand up from her wrist and started toying with her curls as he spoke. His right arm still held her pinned against him, but she made no move to get up.

"Draco, I - "

"Just promise me."

"Fine," Ginny reluctantly let out after a moment of deliberation. "But you j - "

"Shhh..." Draco trailed a finger to her lips to quiet her. He intently studied Ginny's features through hooded eyes. His fingers traced her eyebrow and down to her cheekbone. He ran his knuckles along her jaw line, and slipped his hand around her chin. Ginny sighed at his touch. He held her face with one hand before him. Draco slowly pulled her towards him, closing the gap. Her lips parted and her breath came out rapidly. He tilted his head, and nudged her nose with his. Drunk on the intensity of being this close to her, he madly kissed her eyelids, and all across her forehead. Ginny purred at his sudden outburst, then summoned up all her energy and tore her eyes open. Pushing her weight forward she tried to return to her sitting position, but his arm kept her pressed against him. Draco closed his eyes and turned his face into her hair, taking in her scent.

"Ginny." His voice was hoarse in her ear. "Don't leave. Not this time." He could feel her turn in his arms so she was facing him again.

"Draco, what are we doing?"

"I'm not sure. Just don't leave. I can't let you."

"Why not? What do you want from me?"

"I can't say..." But he trailed off as their eyes met and locked once again. Draco smirked slightly and stroked her face. "No questions, remember? Why don't you just let me convince you to stay?" His hand traveled across her cheek, and down to her mouth. One finger began to trace the outline of her lips, and Ginny moved into the touch, unable to stop herself. Draco gripped the side of her face and pulled her down towards him. Their lips met in the slightest of kisses. Draco was desperately fighting the urge to lunge at her, and he urged her to open her mouth to him. He slowly pulled back and looked up at Ginny sideways. Her eyes were still closed and she looked a little frightened. Draco moved his hand to stroke her lip once again. "Ginny? Come on, just let go for one moment..." Her lips parted at his touch, and he took the invitation. This time she responded immediately, pulling him closer and closer. Her hands trailed their way up to his hair, where they wound circles around his tresses. Ginny nearly collapsed against Draco's chest, intoxicated by his touch. He wrapped his arms around her waist, and pulled her onto the bed next to him. They were lying on their sides, sharing the pillow. Ginny grabbed at the front of Draco's robes and pulled him closer. He locked their legs together behind the knees and traced patterns across her back. Draco's lips finally left hers, and he moved to kiss her ear, then down her neck and in the hollow of her collarbone. Ginny moaned softly in his ear at the burning sensation his hands left everywhere he touched her, and she thought she would either die from it, or drown from the dizziness. Draco's lips were aching, and he found his way back to Ginny's mouth. A strange sensation was growing in the pit of his stomach. It nagged and tugged at him. Just as it got stronger, and he could feel it crawling up to his chest, a cough and a timid voice broke through the air.

"Ginny? Did I hear you come in?" Ron asked as he squinted at his curtains. His head was still throbbing from before.

Ginny's eyes flew open and she squealed as she shot up in Draco's bed. Through the drawn curtain she could hear Ron stirring awake. Her legs were still tangled with Draco's, and his arm was still draped around her waist. She turned her frightened eyes towards him and was slightly shocked at the look on his face. He seemed slightly confused, but very thoughtful. Slowly she could see some sort of realization dawning his features. His eyes widened and his eyebrows reached the top of his head. Ginny wanted to touch his arm and ask what was wrong, when she realized that her hand was still pinned under his head. She looked at it and tugged a little.

"Oh. Right." Draco gingerly sat up, mindful of his still tender wounds. He narrowed his eyes at the girl before him in thought.

"I should really go. I think Ron's awake."

"Hmmm." Then Draco grumbled, adding the last part, "Bloody Weasley. Always ruining my game."

Ginny couldn't stop the blush from spotting her cheeks, and she turned to jump out of the bed. Creeping across the floor, she forced herself not to turn around and take one last look at Draco. It was a good thing she didn't, because what she saw might have scared her.

Draco sat on the bed and let his chin drop to his chest. He brought his hands up to hold his head as he let out a groan. No. It won't happen. It won't come true. I won't let it. I can't let it. I won't let it happen. I won't let it happen... He kept repeating the words to himself as he rocked back and forth on the bed. Everything would only get harder from here on out.

Ron walked slowly towards the Great Hall. His head was swimming with the recent events. He paused for a moment outside the doors, and cocked his head in thought. One side of him was insanely angry with his friends for hiding their feelings from him, but another side believed their story that it was entirely unexpected. One side of him was uncharacteristically angry with them for even having those feelings, but another side told him he was being stupid. So Harry and Hermione were officially a couple. It was only a matter of time, really. Ron had seen it; surely Ginny had seen it. It had only been a matter of time before the two of them got it together. Ron heaved a sigh before his thoughts drifted to his sister. She had been there when he woke up and had narrated the love story of the two Gryffindors. But that wasn't what worried him. Ron was heavily preoccupied with wondering why on Earth Ginny was wandering around with Malfoy. Her answer had been that she needed to get some air, and Malfoy, being Head Boy and all, was trying to take her back to Gryffindor tower. That was another matter that puzzled Ron. How did Malfoy manage to snag Head Boy??? Why did Ginny cover for him to Madame Pomfrey, when she could have easily gotten his Head Boy position removed?? So many questions; so little time. Ron smiled a little to himself and swung the doors open, prepared for the worst.

He marched over to his usual spot, and settled himself between Ginny and Neville. He looked at Ginny for a moment, and when she smiled back, Ron poured himself some pumpkin juice, completely satisfied. Then he looked across at Hermione's nervous expression, and wanted to burst into laughter, suddenly forgetting all of his anger.

"Hermione!" Ron exclaimed, "What is the matter with you? You don't actually think I'm upset, do you?" he added after taking a look at Harry's similar expression. "Please, you two are my best friends and I'm just glad that you've finally stopped boring us with your flirting. Not that I want to see a lot of snogging now or anything..." Ron trailed off and made a disgusted face at Ginny, who giggled instantly at her brother's cheerful disposition. Harry and Hermione were considerably red by now, but everything had once again returned to its normal state.

Harry, Hermione and Ron were violently chatting away, spouting all sorts of remarks about Draco Malfoy and their most recent run-in. Ginny smiled to herself, and let her unnoticed eyes wander across the hall. All the students seemed to be laughing, and enjoying themselves. This was very much a typical Saturday morning at Hogwarts. Everyone was excitedly discussing Hogsmeade plans, when Ginny realized that a certain pair of eyes was boring into her head. When she finally looked towards the Slytherin table, she saw Draco staring dead straight at her. She involuntarily shuddered. He had spent enough time with Madame Pomfrey to recover considerably, but there was a fading shade of blue around one of his eyes. The look he wore was enough to freeze water. Ginny squinted a little, trying to draw some sort of emotion from his eyes. She knew that Draco Malfoy wasn't exactly the most open guy, but she seemed to be fairly skilled at drawing out that other side of him. All of her efforts were of no avail, though. Draco still stared at her with a dead expression, as though she weren't even there. Ginny actually turned around to see if he was staring at something directly behind her, when something caught her eye. An owl came screeching down from her right and dropped a letter in her lap. Startled, Ginny looked up at the frightening bird and timidly offered a piece of her toast. With another screech, the owl picked up the toast and flew off. Ron, Hermione, Harry, Seamus and Dean turned to stare at her. Ginny glanced around and started to laugh a little at the circle of raised eyebrows and bewildered expressions before untying the ribbon and unrolling the parchment. Ron instinctively leaned over her shoulder, but Ginny quickly pressed the note close to her chest.

"Ronald Weasley! What do you think you're doing??"

"Nothing! I'm just seeing who's sending my sister letters."

"Why? It's not as though it's any of your business."

"Oh, so protecting my baby sister from evil guys trying to send her evil letters is none of my business now?" Everyone within earshot at the Gryffindor table visibly groaned at Ron's last comment. Seamus leaned over to Harry and whispered,

"You'd think he'd be smart enough not to go there by now. Strangely enough, being Quidditch captain and all clearly hasn't taught him all that much about strategy." Harry hid a chuckle behind his hand and watched the far too familiar seen play itself out. Ginny, however, had not been as pleased with Seamus's wit. She snapped her head around in his direction and narrowed her eyes at him. Then she stuck her nose in the air, and simply read her letter, carefully shielding it from Ron's eyes.

I know you're going to Hogsmeade today. Pick up the following items, and don't let the Dream Team catch you:


Meet me at the lake when you get back.

Ginny scanned the length of the letter. She turned it over to look for any sort of signature. Her first reaction was to tear it up and just dismiss it, but then she looked up and saw Malfoy watching her expectantly. Oh. So it's you. Ginny mentally rolled her eyes. So he thinks he can just tell me what to do now, huh? Her eyes widened at the laundry list of items she needed to buy. Her hand instantly flew to her pocket where she fingered the money she had saved from the summer. She had just enough to cover the expenses of all the things Draco wanted her to buy. A little confused, Ginny raised her eyes again to Draco, but suddenly decided against protesting. Another chill going up her spine, Ginny gave a faint nod in his direction to convey her agreement, and he tore his eyes away from her. Ginny let out her breath before realizing she had been holding it. Boys, she resigned, I don't think I'll ever understand them.

"Hulloo...Ginny??" Seamus's voice broke through her thoughts as he waved a hand in front of her. "Ginny, didn't you hear me?"

"Hmm? What was that?" Ginny snapped out of her daze and cocked her head at Seamus. "Oh, I'm sorry, I just didn't really sleep that well last night." She suppressed a smile as she remembered how she had woken up this morning.

"Oh, well, I was just saying how you were going to Hogsmeade today. Because, well, I'm going to Hogsmeade today too."

"Erm, sure Seamus. We're all going to Hogsmeade today." Ginny was a little more than confused at the older Gryffindor's sudden loss for words.

"No I know, I was just thinking. Since, well, you're going to Hogsmeade, and I'm going to Hogsmeade. That maybe we - could go to Hogsmeade..."

"...We are, aren't we?" Seamus sighed in frustration at Ginny's perplexed face.

"Look Ginny. Do you want to go to Hogsmeade?"

"Seamus, what are you talking about? I already said I'm going, you said you're going. Everybody's going. I don't understand." Now Ginny was getting frustrated too. Suddenly they both jumped as Harry slammed his goblet down on the table, nearly splashing Hermione with pumpkin juice.

"GINNY. Seamus is trying to ask you out. Do you want to go out with him today or don't you?" Harry grunted, got up, grabbed Hermione's hand, and strode out of the Great Hall.

"Oh. Well, why didn't you say so?" Ginny nervously tucked some hair behind her ear and shifted a little. It wasn't as though she and Draco were any sort of item; they'd just kissed. She wasn't even sure what that kiss was, besides heated, or where it had come from...Well, she was pretty sure where it had come from. And after all, if his frigid treatment at breakfast was any sign of what he thought of her kisses, she was positive it would never happen again. "Sure, I'd love to. I'll meet you at the front in about twenty minutes." Ginny gulped the rest of her juice down and slid out of her seat, and planted a kiss on her brother's cheek, leaving behind a flabbergasted Ron and Seamus.

"But, Harry, I already told you! I have things to do here."

"Hermione!" Harry threw his hands up in indignation at his girlfriend. "What do you mean 'things to do'? You can't just pass up Hogsmeade and say you have 'things to do.' I mean come on, this is a weekend at Hogsmeade with your one and only. You're going to have to come up with something better than 'things to do.' Unless, of course, I'm not your one and only." Hermione giggled at Harry and gave him a little shove.

"All right, all right, calm down. I just need to go to the library to do some research on..." Hermione looked around the Common Room and lowered her voice to a whisper, "Ginny. Ok? So don't get all uptight. I'll meet you back here later." Then she grinned and snaked her arms around the back of his neck. "Then I can tell you all about my research. And we can do some research on our own..." Before she could finish her thought, Harry had bent down to kiss her, placing his hands gently on her waist. She tilted her face up into his and smiled into his mouth. He tasted sweetly of butterscotch. Hermione started to giggle at the thought of Harry being made of butterscotch, and he pulled away.

"Well," Harry eyed her suspiciously. "I guess you convinced me. I'll meet you back here then?" Hermione nodded and made her way out of the portrait hole.

"Oh, Herm!"

"Yes, Harry?" Harry just looked at her for a moment.

"You never did answer my question."

"What question?"

"AM I your one and only?"

Hermione grinned evilly then took on a thoughtfully amused look. "Hmm. I suppose you're right. I didn't answer your question, now did I?" And with that she walked out of the Common Room.

The autumn weather had deepened to soft hues of red dancing across the streets. Hogsmeade was filled with the echo of excited chatter and the flapping of cloaks in the wind. Two little booted feet tapped along the cobblestone, in perfect unison with two more, slightly larger, booted feet. Ginny was looking around, taking in her surroundings as she walked. Seamus nervously told her stories about Ireland and his great-grandfather's castle there.

"You should come visit some time, Gin." The sound of her name pulled her away from her thoughts.

"Hmm? Oh yes, Seamus. That sounds like fun." Ginny suppressed a sigh. She wasn't completely dense; she knew why Seamus was acting a little more nervous than usual. Normally, Ginny would have been ecstatic to have a good-looking boy like Seamus be nervous around her. Normally, the mere thought of it would have her going into a fit of giggles. Normally, Ginny would be overjoyed at him holding her hand the way he was now. Seamus steered Ginny into The Three Broomsticks and towards a table in the back. Ginny tried to fight down the guilty frustration that was growing at her stomach for not doing its usual flip-flops. Oh, sure, I get all fluttery around Harry when I'm his walking fan club...then when I finally have a chance with him last year, I decide to get over him. Now I'm all fluttery over Mr. Death Eater's son himself, and when perfect little Seamus comes along: nothing.

"Ginny, are you all right?" Seamus was eyeing her curiously from across the table. They had been seated and he had brought over two oversized mugs of butterbeer, but she still seemed lost in some dreamland. The look on Seamus's face sent a wave of guilt over Ginny.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Seamus! Like I said, I didn't get much sleep last night. But I'll try to be more 'here.'" Ginny forced a broad smile and resolved to have as much fun as she could here.

"Good, because I was beginning to worry." Seamus's expression lightened and he started to grin. "You know, Ginny, it is my last year here, and I'm starting to think that there are certain things that I can't really afford to sit around and wait for any longer."

"Oh, well what is it your looking for? I mean, is there something you wanted to do that you haven't been able to do?" Ginny's genuine curiosity brought a far away look to Seamus's eyes.

"Why don't we just say that I'm not going to sit around and watch things happen anymore. Soon enough, things are going to start changing for me...for the better." Seamus finished with a wink and took a large gulp of butterbeer. Ginny let out a nervous chuckle. She really was glad to see the growing confidence in her friend, but was more than a little scared of what he might mean by his words.

Draco flipped furiously through the pages in the book that lay in front of him. He wasn't really sure where to start looking. From what Ginny had described, there was clearly some dark magic going on, but the specific spell was unfamiliar to Draco. It has to be some kind of mind-bending spell...possibly playing on dreams. He was cross-referencing dreams and mind-control. Draco took a glance out the window. The morning hours were slowly winding down, and Draco had to squint into the burning autumn sun. Its intensity seemed to light the entire grounds on fire. The leaves shone red with golden highlights. The sudden burst of color that met Draco's eyes led his thoughts to the reason he was even sitting here in the library.

He couldn't hide the fact that he'd been a little more than fascinated with Ginny lately. She had always struck him as some weak little girl who was far too sheltered and na´ve. Even though her innocence made him want to turn and walk away from any thought of her, it was that same innocence that drew him to her. He wanted to keep her as good and protected as she was. Draco had seen enough pain and hatred for a lifetime, leaving him cold to the rest of the world. Ginny seemed to be just the opposite. She had never felt pain, and never saw that ugly side that everyone has. In her eyes, everything was black or white, good or evil. That kind of simplicity never existed anymore, and secretly Draco wished it did. That was his ulterior motive for getting into this mess in the first place: he wanted to preserve the last ounce of simplicity and purity that remained.

Somehow, none of that made sense anymore though. In the last few hours of this morning, Draco had seen how desperately wrong he was. There was nothing left to preserve. He had been drastically wrong about the littlest Weasley. That child of eleven years had opened the Chamber of Secrets, and seen and done more horrble things than Draco could have imagined. As jaded as Draco felt, he never saw true sadness until two years ago. She had lived with this grief for so long, and she still managed to walk somehow. Ginny Weasley was so much stronger than he had ever expected. She had some strange sort of mystery about her. It was as though she was so easy to read and simplistic on the outside, but with just a little prying, you could see there was so much buried underneath. All this was very alluring to Draco, and was the only explanation he was willing to accept for his behavior earlier.

Ginny, Draco's eyes lazily drifted shut and an image of the redhead was plastered on his eyelids. What are you doing to me? He gently massaged his forehead then ran a hand through his hair, suddenly remembering the feel of her hands tangling behind his head. He stretched his back and groaned, then remembered the small sounds of pleasure he had induced from her not too long ago. Bugger! That girl is going to be the life of me! Suddenly Draco's back stiffened and his head shot up. He gripped his stomach and swallowed heavily. It's not true. It's not her.

Hermione walked into the library to see Draco Malfoy sitting at the table hugging himself and rocking back and forth. He seemed to be muttering something under his breath. She slowly made her way towards him and tapped him on the shoulder. Draco literally jumped in the air and his arms flew apart, almost whacking her in the stomach.

"Watch it, Malfoy! I just wanted to see what was wrong with you." Hermione backed a few steps away and eyed him skeptically.

"Well, what business is it of yours, Granger? Not like I want some Mudblood actually caring about me."

"No one," Hermione spoke through her teeth, "said anything about caring about you. I was simply trying to be a good Head Girl and inquire about the well-being of a fellow student. Is that a crime?"

"Of course not. After all, it's not as though you can deny the fact that you find me irresistibly charming anyway." Draco's trademark smirk found its way across his lips and he let the attack ensue. "You better watch yourself Granger; I don't think your little boyfriend, Potter, would like it very much if you accidentally screamed out my name, instead of his." Draco practically laughed at the way Hermione scoffed at him, her eyes wide in shock.

"What on Earth do you know about what Harry likes? That's besides the point!" she quickly added upon seeing Draco's eyebrows shoot up. He was clearly enjoying this. "Look, Malfoy, I don't even know why I'm wasting my time on you. I thought, maybe, you might be sick, but I see that you're just fine. No wait let me correct that. You are sick. Sometimes I wonder if your parents dropped you on your head too many times as a baby." Hermione scoffed one more time then spun on her heel and disappeared into the aisles of books.

Draco shook his head in amusement and sat himself back down. Sometimes I amaze even myself. He returned to the books before him but wasn't able to get much studying done. Hermione had reappeared from the bookshelves, nervously chewing her lip. She gingerly walked over to the chair next to him and settled herself there. Resting her elbows on the table, she simply waited for Draco to look up and notice her. He did.

"What is it now, Granger? You know, I was only kidding about the whole 'Let's cheat on Potter thing!' I would never debase myself enough to have any kinds of relations with a mudblood. In fact, our relationship as it stands now has gone on far too long. Any further conversation would infiltrate my blood. So kindly get up and maintain an appropriate radius away from me." Draco lowered his eyes and began studying again.

"All right Malfoy, here's the deal." Hermione broke the minute-long silence that had followed his most recent string of insults. "I came into the library to do some research, but when I walked over there to find the books I needed, I noticed something funny. None of the books I needed were there. Then I noticed something funnier. ALL of the books I needed were right here, on this table, in front of you." Hermione feigned amazement but only received a blank expression in return.

She continued, "You know something even funnier? Actually, it's not really that funny, just mostly suspicious. None of these books have anything to do with any of the assignments we have. So this must be some independent project you're working on. You must remember that little conversation Harry and I had with you earlier? About you being involved in what happened to Ginny? And Ron and Harry wanting to kill you? Well, let me put it this way. If you share these books with me now, I'll say you're here to just do a little research as Head Boy. No questions asked. Otherwise, I might feel compelled to let Harry and Ron know about your sudden interest in mind-bending, dream walkers." Hermione finished with a smug tilt of her head. She felt very proud for intimidating the Slytherin, or at least attempting to, and was sure that Ron would pat her on the back.

Draco narrowed his eyes at her for a moment before responding.

"No questions asked Granger." He grumbled out and shoved a book in her direction. "If I catch one word of this getting out to Potter and Weasley, you'll wish your parents had another muggle."

Hermione shifted a little then pulled out some parchment and a quill, ready to take notes on her best friend's sister.

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